So another visit to the Coronet Cinema and the magic of the small screen showcase that tonight is a cult classic. The film, Martha Marcy May Marlene starts off like a classic docu drama of a runaway cult member but quickly becomes a rather emotional and tense drama that is unsettling and nervous. We witness the psychological damage of a young innocent wanderer retold through memories and dreams that intensify and affect her waking moments. Even in the safe surroundings of what would be an idyllic get away villa her mind remains trapped in the cult. An affecting film with themes of manipulation, loss, anger, and paranoia.
The film is about a young woman, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), who is struggling to come to terms with life after running from a cult headed by the manipulative Patrick, played by John Hawkes. Both Olsen and Hawke’s performances are impressive, Hawkes as a predatory and abusive leader and Olsen as damaged, self-destructive and paranoid Martha.
The film is shot in two lone locations, the run down farm which is home to the cult and the large riverside holiday home of Martha’s sister Lucy which are coloured with dull tones of grey and brown indicating Martha’s isolation; further presented through the cinematographer’s use of depth of field which often isolates her from her surroundings.
The film is less of a story in the sense of problem and resolution but instead floats in between memory and reality to provide glimpses of the demons that haunt the protagonist and explain her unconventional behaviour.
The film has won critical acclaim including a Sundance Film Festival Award for best director and a Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for best leading actress, both of which are well deserved.
Don’t see this film if you are looking for sensation, do see this film if you are looking for something gritty and exploratory.